6 March 2018 - 2:45pm

9:00 A.M.

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen

Today we take the time to celebrate the life, legacy and accomplishments of one of our greatest Virgin Islanders, our first Chief Minister, Honourable Hamilton Lavity Stoutt.

The Theme for this year’s celebration “What would H. Lavity Stoutt do? Right here! Right now!” is indeed a fitting one. Following the devastation caused by hurricanes Irma and   Maria, every aspect of Government, the economy and life in general were severely impacted. Today, just six months after the storms, we find ourselves facing the mammoth task of recovering and rebuilding. It is in this context that we should ask ourselves the question — What would H. Lavity Stoutt do? Right here! Right now!

H.L. had a passion for the growth and development of the people of this Territory. Today, I believe that he would have made the firm decision, with the support of his government, to focus on the redevelopment of the economy just as he did when he realised the importance of tourism and financial services and promoted them as revenue generators — with these eventually evolving into the two main pillars of the economy.

Taking a page from H.L. we recongised that a major part of the recovery process would be to jump start the restoration of our two main pillars. The Tourism Industry suffered greatly, especially from an infrastructural aspect. Charter yacht and ferry companies lost many of their yachts and boats; several hotel and villa properties and restaurants were almost or completely devastated; cruise ships got the news of our devastation and routed their calls to other Caribbean countries that were less affected and rental companies and taxi operators were barely left with usable vehicles. 

Today our ferries are running between islands, our yachts are being chartered, several of our local hotels, villas and restaurants are operational, rental companies have replaced damaged vehicles and taxi operators have been able to repair damages to their vehicles.

Several companies operating within the Financial Services Sector were displaced and many of the staff were relocated due to the lack of access to the resources needed to operate effectively. Our Financial sector, however, proved resilient and the registry’s system was up and running in a matter of days following the hurricane, allowing relocated companies to gain access from overseas locations. Today, the Financial Services Industry continues to generate revenue in the face of these trying times.

H.L. Stoutt’s vision for a better Virgin Islands went even further and extended deep into the development of the Territory’s infrastructure. The progression of the infrastructural developments made over the years contributed overwhelmingly to the creation of the modern Virgin Islands that H.L. envisioned. During this period of recovery today, the redevelopment of our infrastructure post hurricanes is crucial to our sheer existence as a territory that thrives on tourism and financial services.

But this cannot be done alone. Like H.L. we must recognise when we need help as a Territory and utilise the services of persons who may not be Virgin Islanders, but can efficiently contribute to our advancement in these areas. Our history would show that it was H.L. that began to engage persons from other countries who then came to these shores and worked along with our people to build a territory that would eventually serve as a force to be reckoned with in several areas.

Ultimately, this must again become our reality as we seek to continue to rebuild this Territory to surpass its former glory. Labour and immigration policies that work in accordance with our plans for future developmenmust be put in place and enforced for us to continue on our path towards the restoration of these islands.

It is no secret that agriculture was the way of life and survival in the early years of our existence as a territory.  Men and women toiled these lands to ensure that there was food for their families and also enough so that they could make a living. Throughout our progression, however, this reliance on agriculture shifted and we no longer relied as heavily on this industry as we did in the past.

I can recall hearing of a story from H.L. Stoutt where a little girl and her family were having dinner with a family friend. The little girl announced that her father grew everything that they were having for dinner in the family garden and inquisitively asked the man what he did for a living. The man said that he was a banker. A bit confused, the little girl replied, “no, what do you do?” To which the man responded: “I manage money.” A bit disappointed, the little girl then said, “Oh, that’s a shame. Maybe when you die and go to heaven you can become a farmer.” This showed that in those days agriculture was viewed differently than it is today.

Immediately after the hurricanes, we can all remember standing in lines at the supermarkets for several hours —   feeling a bit uneasy because we were unsure if there would be food once we finally got inside. These instances could have perhaps been avoided if each of us did our own little part to keep the agricultural sector alive. H.L., in recognising this   misstep would have actively pursued various ways to get persons to once again recognise the importance of agriculture and starting their own gardens — and this is something that I dare say we must all endeavor to do now.

As Minister responsible for schools, I will be mandating that all schools, both primary and secondary create and  maintain a school garden and that agricultural science become a greater focus as part of the curriculum.

Being an advocate for education, H.L. would have ensured that the education system was up and running in a timely manner as he strongly believed that all Virgin Islanders were entitled to an education. It wasn’t too long ago when most Virgin Islanders were only allowed up to a primary education. Secondary education was an opportunity for a handpicked few — oftentimes they were boys, and it was rare that those secondary students migrated to pursue tertiary education.

H.L. had a knack for good talent and whenever he had a plan he would always think of the right person that could make it happen. For example, when he wanted to start a college he called on Eileen Parsons. Persons such as Lorna Smith, Robert Mathavious and Elroy Turnbull were handpicked by H.L. because he saw exceptional promise in them and he knew where they would fit in to his vision for the development of these Virgin Islands and he was in fact very right.

The devastation caused by hurricane Irma has exposed some major shortcomings that we need to address at once.  Our neglect of technical and vocational areas have come back to haunt us at this present time. It is extremely difficult to find local tradesmen to help with the much needed repairs to homes. We now have to rely heavily on bringing persons in from other parts of the world to assist us.

The Virgin Islands school of Technical Studies, though an important step in the right direction, is not enough. There is a great need for a trade school in this Territory so that we can properly equip our people with the skills in these areas —particularly since we are being told that category 5 hurricanes may become the norm in the Caribbean.

H.L. was a consumate politician who dearly loved his country.  He had, as Kenneth Williams put it — a “sweet mouth.” Any of us who knew H.L. knew that this was so. He could get you to do whatever he wanted you to do in the interest of the country.  I recall being told by my good friend Honourable Oliver Cills that H.L. used to kill him with so much kindness and love that he left his position as leader of the opposition and crossed the floor to join H.L. Stoutt. Now I am in no way advocating that any member of the HOA should cross the floor, what I am advocating is that we should follow the example set by H.L. and work together in the interest of the country particularly at this vulnerable time.

Today we remember the legacy of a man whose existence and vision has contributed to the benefits that we have come to enjoy as a Territory. As we continue on our path towards recovery, may we be guided by the principles and lessons that H.L would have taught us – asking ourselves: what would H Lavity Stoutt do? Right here! Right now! 


Ministry or Department Associated with this News Article:

Share this post